Few people are surprised when a government body wastes money. But there is waste, and then there is waste!!!
Spending that makes you think, What the #[email protected]& is going on here? This is absolutely absurd!
We have a really good example right here in Salem, Oregon. Bradd Swank described the outrage in a January 23 letter to the editor in the Statesman Journal.
Download $25_000 in taxpayer dollars wasted PDF
$25,000 in taxpayer dollars wasted on facility campaign
In October 2013, Salem approved $25,000 (taxpayer dollars) for a Portland political consultant’s help on an $80 million bond vote for city hall/possible library improvements and a new police facility. The result, so far, is a city website poll that started Jan. 21 that failed me four times.
Known politically as a “push” poll, it presents opinions, slanted questions and unsubstantiated information to “push” views other than seek unbiased responses. It gets people agreeing, makes political assertions and then asks further questions making the assertions more appealing.
This “push” poll asserts — in several places — political conclusions supporting a single proposed location for the police. Some questions imply, as fact, that all alternative police/court sites would be less efficient, not centrally located and eventually more expensive.
These are issues with much local professional and political disagreement, some from professionals who helped the county save tens of millions of dollars on the county facility redo — and would like similar thought for a city police/court facility.
Eugene’s similar-sized new facility was tens of millions of dollars less than proposed here. Why buy a Cadillac? Why public money on consultants to help convince us we should? Is it appropriate to use taxpayer money to sell a future bond measure vote?
Having heard about the poll on January 21, I found a link to the survey on a City of Salem web page about the Public Safety Facility and Civic Center Seismic Need project.
I also found the survey distressingly biased. It really is largely a push poll. Which isn't a compliment. Especially for a government agency supposedly dedicated to providing accurate information to citizens.
Here's a PDF file of the survey. Read it and see what you think.
Download Survey PDF-New Police Facility, Salem Civic Center Survey
There are various definitions of a push poll. These usually are conducted by phone and only consist of a few questions. Like, "Would it make you more or less likely to vote for Joe Jones if you knew that he sliced up live kittens, put them in a blender, and drank them for breakfast?"
Naturally Joe Jones actually doesn't do this. The question is just intended to put the thought in someone's mind, akin to the classic loaded question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"
Here's a pertinent quote from a Pollster.com article, "So what is a *push* poll?" After talking about telephone surveys that are obvious push polls, Mark Blumenthal says:
If a pollster lies in a real survey, that's sleazy and wrong.
The City of Salem online survey has this at the beginning:
The survey is similar to a scientific poll of Salem voters conducted in mid-January 2014 by an opinion research firm.
So this was a "real survey." I consider that the City of Salem, with the pollster's acquiescence, lied in it. Ergo, what the City of Salem did is sleazy and wrong. Let's consider the evidence. When I first read question #7, it immediately struck me as especially push'y, being factually incorrect.
. Which of the following options for building a new Salem police facility would you most prefer?
The alternatives presented to the survey-taker are stated as factual truths.
A police facility built at the Civic Center will be less costly to tax payers over the long term, even though the construction costs are higher. A police facility built on an existing vacant lot outside the downtown core will be more costly to taxpayers over the long-term.
Since Salem Community Vision is claiming that a new police facility built away from the Civic Center could cost about $15 million less than the $35 million cost of a Civic Center police facility, I couldn't understand how that $15 million saving meshed with Question 7.
So I emailed the City's coordinator for this project, Courtney Knox Busch.
I’m curious about the City’s basis for question 7 in your Survey Monkey poll (shown below). The City makes factual statements in the first two options: (1) that building a new police facility at the Civic Center will be less costly to taxpayers over the long-term, and conversely, (2) that building a new police facility on an existing lot away from the Civic Center will be more costly to taxpayers over the long-term. (my emphasis in bold)
Given that the City says in the poll introduction that this is similar to a scientific survey conducted by a polling firm, I doubt you were intending question 7 to sound like a “push poll.” Namely, a question whose biased phrasing invites a certain answer.
So I’m assuming that the City has documentation, analyses, spreadsheets, or what-not to back up the contention that, say, a $35 million police facility built at the Civic Center would be less expensive to taxpayers in the long-term than a $20 million facility built on a vacant lot elsewhere in Salem.
I find it difficult to believe that this is the case, having a modicum of financial analysis ability. But I’m open to being persuaded. So please send me the City’s basis for phrasing question 7 in the way that it was worded. I assume this will include consideration of such factors as lost property tax revenue if the City purchases a lot currently owned privately, and the cost of financing an extra $15 million or so given the higher cost of building at the Civic Center, with underground parking and such.
That said, the poll question does not state that a new police facility built away from the Civic Center would be on private land. So I assume the City has considered what the cost would be for a new police facility built on land the City already owns, which would not reduce property tax revenues.
Thanks. I’m planning to write a blog post about the poll tonight or tomorrow, so I’d appreciate getting the documentation ASAP.
I’m being sincere, nor sarcastic, when I say that I doubt the City would have worded this question the way it did without justification/documentation. Back in my health planning days with state government and in my research associate days at OHSU, I designed and worked on quite a few opinion surveys. I’m familiar with how professional statisticians and survey researchers do things. Phrasing of questions isn’t taken lightly; careful consideration is given to every word.
— Brian Hines
This is the response I received from Busch:
Thank you for your question, Brian.
Question #7 aims to better understand the community appetite for the new facility and tries to differentiate between capital and operating costs. We do know that operating a police facility that is separated from Municipal Court and other City operations will lead to an increase in operational costs.
To which I replied:
Re. your message below… Yes, but that isn’t what the question says. The clear message is that a police facility located at the Civic Center will be “less costly to taxpayers over the long term.”
So again, I’m asking for evidence in support of this. How is it possible for an $80 million bond measure that includes construction of a police facility at the Civic Center to be less costly to taxpayers over the long term than, say, a $50 million bond measure that includes construction of a police facility at another site out in the community?
The bond interest and capital repayment costs will be much higher for the $80 million bond. Adjust for some possible lost property tax revenue, if the $50 million option involves private land; add some gasoline and time costs for police administrators to drive to the Civic Center for City meetings (the Municipal Court could be located adjacent to the off-Civic Center police building, obviating the need to travel for court cases), and its difficult to see how the net savings isn’t very close to $30 million.
I’m not trying to make waves. I’m just trying to learn the basis for question #7. After all, it isn’t framed in the form of a “what if?” "What if it were less expensive to taxpayers to build a police facility at the Civic Center?" Rather, question 7 involves some supposedly factual propositions, which I’m trying to learn the basis for.
If this is the best you can do, I’ll reluctantly accept that. But if you can be more specific about the supposed cost savings to the taxpayer by building at the Civic Center, please send that info to me. Thanks. I appreciate your quick reply.
Haven't gotten any additional information.
So I believe Bradd Swank was correct when he said that the $25,000 spent by the City of Salem on a survey was indeed largely a "push poll." If this isn't illegal for a government agency to do in preparation for a possible bond levy vote, it sure seems unethical to me.